Wednesday, August 27, 2014

[Book Review] Of Bone and Thunder

Of Bone and Thunder / Chris Evans

Of Bone and Thunder channels Full Metal Jacket into a gritty sword and sorcery novel.  The Vietnam War inspiration is unmistakable in the setting, as is the futility and madness, and it shows that odd pacing of Kubrick's where things are both fast and incredibly slow at the same time.

At first I couldn't really get into the story.  Different characters and threads of plot were introduced, but I was left wondering why I should care about them or how they fit together.  Nothing clicked and the insistence on calling dragons "rags" grated.  Then, suddenly, the stories clicked.  Pieces fit together into a larger picture.  Regardless of if I liked the characters, I wanted to see how their stories played out.

There is nothing romantic about this war, regardless of what propaganda is being fed to the citizens at home.  The jungle is unforgiving, the weaponry indiscriminately fatal.  The enemy is made as faceless as possible, since attacks take out non-combatants along with combatants.  A "win" is more likely to mean that they didn't all die, and managed to take out some of the enemy.  Of Bone and Thunder develops into a compelling story about lives caught up in a brutal war and the determination of those trying to survive.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Remembering a life

July 12 was the worst day of my life.

The morning of July 11th my mom went in for an exploratory abdominal surgery, and never woke up. While under aesthetic, unknown to anyone, an aneurysm burst. It was realized that something was wrong, and she was taken in for a CAT scan, where she stopped breathing while in the machine. They got her hooked to a ventilator and discovered that there was bleeding around her brain. The hospital than began the search for an open bed in a hospital with a neurosurgeon, and once one was located, she was airlifted down. During transit he condition deteriorated drastically. Her eyes were 'blown out,' a new CAT scan showed multiple aneurysms hemorrhaging throughout the brain, and they determined that the blood pressure in her brain pan was higher than the blood pressure in her body.  She had passed the point of no return. We sat with her through the night. In the early hours of July 12th, she slipped into brain death and was taken off life support. My stepfather and I sat with her as she faded away.

There is no way for me encapsulate what my mother meant to me.

Today, August 24th, we said good bye again, remembering her life with some of those who's lives she touched.  We filled the Memorial Hall at the Munson Memorial Library, because where else could we really honor my mother, but at a library?

This was my tribute to my mother:

I probably don’t have to introduce myself. After all, I am my mother’s daughter. My whole life I’ve known I resemble her, someone who knows one of us, even just in passing, always ends up identifying the other. When I was a college freshmen, my mom came up for Parent's Weekend. I was a single face in classes of a hundred or more, but my professors knew immediately who she was. I look just like her.

You know what? That’s always been just fine by me.

And why not?

Martina is largely responsible for who I am today. She did her part to raise an inquisitive, creative, stubborn, active, and independent child. I was sometimes perhaps a bit too creative, and with the flawed logic of a child. Once when I was maybe six, she told me to not tape anything to the wall. I ran out of thumb tacks, and, well, glue wasn't tape, so that should be alright wouldn't it? Then my mom encountered a hysterically upset child who had just realized that while glue was not tape... it was not a good idea. I assume the scraps of glue and pink paper are no longer on the wall only because someone else owns that house now and they must have painted over it. She taught me the importance of responsibility and doing the right thing, even if it wasn’t always comfortable. She knew I was a rational being, that I just needed all the pieces to understand. It means a lot to a child to be treated with respect, and it mattered a lot to me that I live up to her expectations and trust.

If you want to know where I got the habit of reading during meals… or at any other time when I’m not otherwise occupied, it’s all my mom.  She shared her love of books with me, and it took deep root. We shared books, introduced each other to new authors, and got into contention over who actually owned a prized book (she was more direct, while I was sneakier and would integrate them into my collections until that’s where they were expected to be). My mom loved books and libraries, which makes it perhaps fitting that I ended up becoming a librarian. She supported me in whatever I did, even if it was a complete academic shift from engineering to library science. That I ultimately could go in and renew her books, and remind her that that they were overdue was just an added benefit. However, I’ve never met someone happier to pay her overdue fines than my mom – she knew the funds were being put to a cause she supported.

I knew my mom was the best kind of troublemaker. One who put her life into making the world a better place, doing what she could to enable people to live happy, healthy, lives. I knew she was an activist, and agitator, perhaps sometimes a bit like the terriers she loved – passionate, dedicated, and stubborn. What I didn’t realize until the past month or so, was quite how profound her efforts were. She was always my mom, doing what she believed in. She would point out things she had achieved, like the “honk for assistance” stickers on gas pumps, or tell stories about butting head with town governments or landlords that would go out of their way to not rent their accessible apartments to those who needed them.
We might think of our parents as our heroes, but we don't tend to think of them terms as other people's heroes as well.

In the past month it’s come home quite how many lives she touched, the connections she made throughout the state on an individual and governmental level. I learned that she chose activism over law school, about decades spent as a political activist, and about how much more she was than “just” my mom. It’s a bit humbling. My mom means the world to me, and what she did means the world to so many others. I’m not ready to say goodbye, and I don’t think I ever will be. And you know what, that's OK. She was an amazing woman, and I hope I can live up to the example she set.

I was one of a number of people who spoke of my mom's life.  Her sister, a co-worker, friends, and her husband spoke as well.  Sharing our memories of the incredible person she was.  I hope my words touched those present, and I tried to speak well.  The words above aren't quite what I said, I wrote my memorial ahead of time, and then added to it as I spoke.  I've tried to recreate it accurately. I spoke of her as my mother, but she was so much more.  Her work saved lives.

My mom was a passionate reader and a passionate disabilities rights advocate.  To commemorate her life, we have established the Martina Carroll Accessible Book Fund at the Jones Library in Amherst. They will be accepting donations towards the purchase of media in alternative formats such as audio books, large print materials and digital assitive technologies.  If you wish to help us support accessibility for all patrons of the Amherst libraries we would love your contribution to her legacy.

Click here to download a PDF of the donation form

Jones Library, Inc.
43 Amity Street
Amherst, MA 01002

Saturday, August 16, 2014

[Book Review] The Killer App

The Killer App / John Writher (Powell's Books)
The Killer App is set in a future generation where Britain is crippled by an ageing population, and the associated spiraling costs of pension, health and social care. The new Prime Minister, Robert Hand, pledged to strip-search the country’s finances, as well as funding research and innovation, to remedy the situation. He teams up with Bill Haugan, a ruthless American businessman with a penchant for pushing the boundaries, and Janet Icks, a hard-working genetic scientist wedded to her laboratory. On top of the snow-covered pistes around Davos, Switzerland, the unlikely trio hatch a killer experiment designed to revolutionize society. They all have their own personal interests in the proposal – Hand wants the public vote for solving the demographic imbalance, Icks is keen to test her research to transfer DNA after death, while Haugan has designs on expanding his empire – yet the worlds of politics, big business and science become uncomfortable bedfellows in a bid to rebalance the population. All they need is someone willing to “die to be young again”. Experiment Candidate 1456 is a frustrated artist in his late thirties, depressed at what his life has become after a failed marriage. Convinced he can do better, he is thrilled to be selected for this trial regeneration and sees the proposal as an opportunity to drop off the grid and start over. Little does he know what lies ahead… Just as the experiment starts, ethical opponents sabotage proceedings and violently shatter the lives of those involved, while events unravelling from the protest leave many secrets exposed.
I absolutely love the concept of this book.  I was looking exploration of ethics, speculative technology, a complex setting, and intrigue.  The website interesting, and to be utterly honest, a little creepy.

Unfortunately I found little compelling in this story.  The plot and writing weren't polished or developed enough.  Maybe I'm asking too much, but the idea had such promise, and the tagline really is remarkably compelling for it's simplicity.  The characters felt flat, lacking depth at best, and resembling stereotypes at worst (an environmentalist/eco-terrorist with the legal birth name of Gaia among them).  Probably the most interesting figure in the book, the test subject, is an utterly unlikable character.

I was hoping for a fast-paced, techno-thriller akin to Nexus and was disappointed.  There is a build up of tension, but it's a slow, pondering with reluctant payout.  Moments of tension left me rolling my eyes rather than sitting on the edge of my seat.  The story isn't necessarily bad, it just didn't deliver what I was looking for.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

[Book Review] As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride / Cary Elwes (Powell's Books)

If you love the film of The Princess Bride you should sit down and read this is endearing memoir.  Not only does it tell the story of the making of The Princess Bride from the point of view of the leading man, but it includes delightful stories and asides from the cast and crew.  The book takes an already touching and well loved movie and makes it even more human.

I'm not going to lie, I teared up while reading this book.  The writing may not be the most polished, but it's telling the story of the love that was put into the movie and the affection that the cast and crew shared for the material and each other.  Many of those involved loved the book and the chance to take part in the film was a dream come true.  The Princess Bride combined outstanding established talent and little known names into a film that generations have come to love.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Monday, August 11, 2014

My reluctant reader

I read a lot.  At any given time I likely have a book on hand, and be somewhere in the middle of at least three others.  I read somewhere in the range of 100-200 books a year.

My fiance, on the other hand, is not much of a reader.  At all.  He'll read car manuals, forums, magazines, but until the past few months he has read a grand total of one book (The Zombie Survival Guide) during the first six years of our relationship.  Reading for pleasure just isn't his thing.

Only, early this year he went out and bought a copy of Ender's Game.  Made his way through it, enjoyed it, and would occasionally have fun discussion points from it with me.  When he got near the end I suggested Ready Player One, one of my favorites and a novel I've thought since it came out that he would enjoy.

I can't being to express how stupidly happy it makes me to see him reading a book because he enjoys it.  He seems slightly amused at my excitement.  Now I'm trying to figure out what to recommend next, and I'm not 100% sure what direction to go.  On the bright side, I've been informed that he plans to read further in the Ender series first before seeking new titles, so I have time.  Still, building recommendations on so few data points is rough.

Recommendation lists that include Ready Player One and Ender's Game tend to go towards YA suggestions or dive right off the deep end into Neil Stephenson.  Then again, maybe he would like Snow Crash, it's been way too long since I've read it (Cryptonomicon or Baroque Cycle are more what I think of these days in association with Stephenson).  So let's tentatively throw that on the list.  To me, Ready Player One and Ender's Game aren't (just) 'Young Adult' - they read like novels written for mature readers but have a wide appeal base.  I'm not sure I want to recommend Heinlein just yet, as I fully admit even the novels of his I love can be very hit or miss with readers.

I'm looking for similar reads in terms of voice, pacing, and appeal.  Books good for a competent adult reader who's just discovered that recreational reading might be something they like doing now and then.  "New reader" recommendation lists tend to be aimed at youth, and the previously mentioned read-alike lists tend to assume either teens/YA or adults with an established Science Fiction reading interest.

Possible future suggestions:
What books would you add suggest to an adult discovering that they might actually like recreational reading starting with these seeds?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

[Book Review] Swan Prince

Swan Prince / Erin Larke

Oliver is bound by duty, to his family and his flock.  Duty to lead and duty to produce a heir, neither is he eager to fulfill.  Trying to escape briefly from the weight of responsibility, Oliver slips away from his guards and flies on his own, right into the sights of a hunter.  The injury that would fell a swan is survivable to a man, and Oliver takes shelter in a nearby barn to rest and take shelter from the oncoming blizzard.

Bastion's horses are his life, living out on a distant farm with little companionship and a recently unreliable hired hand.  Finding a naked injured man in an empty stall during chores is not what he expected.  With no clothes, no ID, and no voice, Oliver is taken in by Bastion, who provides sanctuary while Oliver heals.

The attraction between them is undeniable, but Oliver knows he can't stay, and Bastion can't bear a no-strings attached affair.  Something has got to give, but what?  And can Oliver share his shifter life with a human?

Swan Prince overflows with the consuming lusts and longings of Oliver and Bastion, but manages to retain an element of tenderness throughout.  While their relationship has an aspect of supernatural bonds, it is still a relationship that grows as the two men discover each other.  The sex focuses not just on the acts themselves, but on the experience as well.  Categorized as "romance" the book dips into "erotica" as well.

While this is a paranormal romance, there is no villain or big, bad, supernatural threat.  Rather the difficulties of life, responsibilities of one's position, and the inconsiderate natures of others are the hurdles Oliver and Bastion must pass.

With a name like Swan Prince, I was expecting something more akin to Swan Lake or one of the Wild Swans fairytale variations.  What we get instead is something different altogether.  The story is light on details of swan shifter society, focusing on what ties Oliver to his flock and how that affects his growing relationship with Bastion.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Link Smorgasbord, July 2014

Pink flamingos flock to Westfield lawns to support Athenaeum in FUN-raiser
A cute fundraiser that a library I spent a number of years at is running.

A Year in the Life of the Sheridan Libraries
Two photography undergrad students were brought in to document the life and environment of the Sheridan Libraries over the course of the academic year.  Gorgeous results.  I'd love to do a project like this in the future.

XKeyscore exposed: How NSA tracks all German Tor users as 'extremists'

Four librarians gagged and threatened with prison time under the Patriot Act
I've said this before, and I'll say it again, librarians really do care about privacy.  There are always exceptions to beliefs and limits in how far people will go, but protection of privacy is one of the core values of the profession.

At Sea in a Deluge of Data
On research, data, and what librarians do.

Avast bought your phone on eBay & recovered what you thought you ‘wiped’
This isn't an issue for just phones, but there is a very active market in second-hand phones.
That’s because when you delete a file, it’s not really deleted. Rather the operating system deletes pointers that correspond to the file and marks the space that the file occupies as available so that it can eventually be overwritten. But until it’s overwritten, the file can still be restored.
Using Avast's products of course isn't the only method of protecting one's data, but obviously there is a bias since they did the testing (that being said, I've been pretty happy with Avast's free antivirus for many years)
And more here:
Tens of thousands of Americans sell themselves online every day

Novel Engagement
A lot of reading, and reading recommendation tools exist out there, but I find this one particularly cute.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for a cute name.

A Long Overdue Nod to SciFi and Fantasy’s Best Librarians

Sure, let’s close the libraries and just get everyone an Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription
A response to the voices claiming that Amazon's new subscription service is a replacement for libraries.  What I'd like to add to this is if you go and browse a library's ebook collection we have books that can be read on any reader/tablet, and books that can be read on any reader except Kindle because Amazon won't let an ebook that they don't also sell in Kindle format (which is a different file format than the industry standard).  Even if you limit the scope of a library just to a place to get free books, and limit even further to digital lending, we can lend you ebooks Amazon won't.

Ad/Lib | Library Marketing, Advertising & Branding
Awesome trove of ideas for librarians.

HarperCollins, BitLit Partner on E-Book Bundling PilotI mentioned BitLit last month I believe, and while one of my favorite publishers was participating, their offerings were slightly limited.  Having one of the big publishers come on board for this is pretty exciting.

College Libraries Push Back as Publishers Raise Some E-Book Prices
Times like this the pessimist in me wants to say "I told you so."  I don't trust subscription access to data as a replacement to owning copies that we (the institution) have control over because this inevitably happens.  As someone who's working at least temporarily in an academic library the impact of this price jump is huge, and we have to dramatically cut the ebooks that our students can borrow because of it.

The e-book phenomenon: a disruptive technology
A study on e-books and their implications across the globe.

amelia bedelia wikipedia I accidentally started a Wikipedia hoax
On the danger of using Wikipedia as a reputable source (it's not always wrong, but it's more like a "phone a friend" option).  This isn't the only time that errors from a Wikipedia article have made it as fact in serious publication, and it won't be the last.

Google can't compete with a skilled librarian steeped in information technology
On librarians and libraries as very useful and relevant.